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We Must Be Honest About What the Coronavirus Outbreak Will Mean for Climate Action

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We Must Be Honest About What the Coronavirus Outbreak Will Mean for Climate Action
United Nations

By Anders Lorenzen, A Greener Life, a Greener World

In the wake of the global Covid-19 outbreak which has caused the biggest disruption to life as we know it and to the economy since World War II, many have been celebrating the drop in emissions from reduced industrial activity, travel and so on.


But we really must be careful about how we communicate these wins and indeed celebrate them.

For years people skeptical about climate action have argued, that ambitious emission cuts will bankrupt the world economy, will make our lives more miserable, and will take away our democratic right to do what we want. It is a view backed up by some climate activists who argue we need to get rid of capitalism in order to tackle the climate crisis.

On the other hand, the people actually working on tackling the climate crisis, including NGOs, economists, politicians, policymakers, think tanks, journalists and columnists argue that we can tackle climate change while still maintaining strong economies. They claim that many new jobs will be created through green policies and the workforce needed for clean energy projects. New infrastructure projects are needed to protect our societies from the worst impacts of climate change, and the investments in R&D to create new and better technologies, will hugely boost and diversify the economy.

If we make too much of a case for the benefit of declining emissions in the wake of Covid-19, naysayers will argue that the stringent emission cuts many have been calling for can only be made by grinding the economy to a halt and by limiting people's movements. While any drop in emissions is welcome, we will have to think about what will happen once the Covid-19 outbreak ends, and it will end.

It is important also to note that while in the wake of the outbreak, the travel industry, the fossil fuel industry and many other high emission industries are suffering, so are also the industries which fuel the green economy. We must remember that before Covid-19 struck green technologies were rapidly expanding and becoming more competitive in line with the tightening of regulations. We need to make sure that we don't experience a setback in the green economy and that we do not end up where we were ten years ago.

Some of the optimism about Covid-19 has been based around the idea that the outbreak will change everything forever and we will never go back to how it was before. But what if it doesn't? What if fossil fuel and airline companies continue unabated once the outbreak has finished benefitting from government help packages and the fewer regulations which might then come into force?

What would happen if regulations for such industries are not reinforced once the outbreak is over, or that there is a long delay? How and why do we think our societies will change once Covid-19 ends?

These are all viable questions we should ask ourselves. Many would argue that we never learned the mistakes from the 2008 financial crash and never truly reformed the financial industries.

On one hand, It is hard not to celebrate this huge saving of emissions. But we must also adopt the stance that we don't need the global economy to collapse in order to reduce emissions. We do not want to use arguments that if we are to tackle climate change we must go back to living like cavemen. If we say that this outbreak is good for tackling climate change then we also say we can only tackle it by constraining the economy, bankrupting thousands of small companies and letting millions of workers become unemployed.

A virus is not the tool needed to tackle the climate crisis. Instead, we must make it clear that the quicker the economy get back on track, we can better make sure the green economy is not impacted and that we continue investing in green solutions.

We must also keep donating to the crucially important NGO's and organizations which work tirelessly to tackle the climate crisis. This is the best chance we have of dealing in the long-term with the climate crisis.

This article originally appeared in A Greener Life, a Greener World and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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